A Wesleyan Interpretation of Romans 5-8

, posted by Kevin Jackson

A Wesleyan Interpretation of Romans 5-8

From the Wesleyan Theological Journal
Jerry McCant

Any assignment whose parameters are set by others can be threatening. After accepting this assignment, I found this one to be so. First, it was to be a Wesleyan interpretation. Given the many “Wesleyanisms”‘ and the problem Isbell2 had in defining a “Wesleyan position” on the “old man,” I was not too hopeful. I was asked to interpret Romans 6-8 from this Wesleyan perspective. For reasons that I shall discuss below, I was not able to be that restrictive, but found myself forced to consider Romans 5-8 as a unit.

Some would place 5:1-11 with chapter 4;3 others would place the whole of chapter 5 with what precedes.4 One of the primary reasons for placing chapter 5 with chapters 6-8 is the nature of its contents: It is parallel by virtue of its substance with chapters 6-8, coinciding exactly with the logical sections. In each of the four chapters the first sub-section is a basic statement concerning the life promised for the man who is righteous by faith or concerning the meaning of justification: being justified means being reconciled to God, being sanctified, being made free from the law’s condemnation and being indwelt by the Spirit.5 Two formal matters may be considered. First, the occurrence of one or the other of the formulae “through our Lord Jesus Christ,” “through Jesus Christ our Lord” and “in Christ Jesus our Lord” at the beginning, in the end of chapter 5 and at the end of each of the three subsequent chapters, has the effect of binding the chapters together. Secondly, the solemn formula which concludes chapter 4 strongly suggests that 4:25 marks the end of a major division of the epistle.6

Other considerations argue for making Romans 5-8 the unit of material. Up to Romans 5:11, Paul has dealt with sin as guilt, but from 5:12 to 8:10, Paul discusses sin as revolt; he hamartia occurs twenty-eight times between 5:12 and 8:10. The sinfulness of man (5:12-21) is dealt with in terms of crucifixion with Christ (chapter 6), death to the law (chapter 7) and life in the Spirit (chapter 8). Through Adam, mankind stood under judgment (katahrima, 5:18), but in Christ, the judgment (katakrima, 8:1) is cancelled. The section opens (5:1-11) and closes (8:31-39) on the eschatological note of hope “through (in) our Lord Jesus Christ.” Sin i8 personified throughout Romans 5-8.

I. Peace with God (5:1-11)

That this section is related to the preceding is clearly indicated by the phrase dikaiosin hemon at the end of 4:25 and the participle dikaiothentes as the first word in 5:1. With the beginning of Romans 5, justification is considered an accomplished fact and Paul is now prepared to consider its implications and consequences. This righteousness is a present reality, but Paul does not rob it of its forensic-eschatological meaning. The eschatological event is present reality. Rudolf Bultmann reminds us that “When God rightwises the sinner, ‘makes him righteous’ (4:5), that man is not merely ‘regarded as if’ he were righteous, but really is righteous-i.e. absolved from sin by God’s verdict.”7

Assurance of the future, eschatological life in Romans 5 emerges from the preceding chapters. In Romans 1:18-32, the heathen and Jew are confronted with both God’s righteousness and His wrath. Righteousness has been made available through the accomplished salvation event in Jesus Christ, according to Romans 3:21-31. It is needed by Jew and Gentile-ougar estin diastole-(3:22). Romans 4 is scriptural proof of Paul’s thesis and 5:1-21 gives an affirmative answer to the question whether life is a present reality. Thus, Romans 5:1 is connected to what precedes3 and is the sum of chapters 1-4 as well as 5-8.9

As a consequence of being rightwised by faith, Paul affirms that eirenen echomen pros ton Theon (5:1). That echomen should be understood as an indicative rather than a subjunctive in this passage is indicated by v.lOf.-echthroi ontes katellagemen to Theo . . . katallagentes . . . ten katallagen elabomen.10 If the subjunctive is read, it must have the sense of “Let us enjoy the peace we have.” J. B. Phillips tries to preserve this in his translation: “Let us grasp the fact that we have peace with God.” Peace with God means “God is for us” (8:31).

“Peace with God” (eirenen pros ton Theon) is not “peace of mind” because the psychological characteristics of salvation are foreign here.” That subjective feelings of peace (though these may, in fact, result) are not denoted is indicated by verse lOf.: echthroi ontes katellagemen to Theo . . . katallagentes . . . ten katallagen elabomen. Justification and reconciliation are related but not identical. Reconciliation is not a consequence of justification nor is it a different metaphor for the same fact. God’s justification involves reconciliation because God is what/who He is. The fact that we have been justified means we have been reconciled and have peace with God.

Peace with God and reconciliation are through Jesus Christ who gives access to this grace(5:2).12 “Through whom we have received access of this grace in which we stand” is synonymous with “having been justified.” Even with the kai, it does not indicate a second work of grace.13 Having been justified, we rejoice (kauchometha, present tense; indicative or subjunctive?) in the hope of the glory of God. “Glory” is future because it is an eschatological term. But in Jesus Christ, the present has broken into the future and this hope which so transforms the present (vv. 3-5) “does not let us down” (v.5). This hope in which we “exult” (RSV), “triumph” (Moffatt), or “glory” (Goodspeed) anticipates the mood of Romans 8:31-39.

Verses 3-5 form a concatenation of the paradoxical characteristics resulting from justification by faith 24 Exulting in hardships is based on the proverb that “tribulation works patience.”15 Patience produces character (dokime-RSV, but “experience” in KJV) and character hope. Hope has already been given in justifying faith, but is repeated here to mark its dynamic nature which must be continuously renewed. Such hope does not “disappoint us” (v. 5, RSV) because “God’s love has been poured out through the Holy Spirit” (v.5). This is the first mention of agape in Romans as well as the first mention of the Holy Spirit.16 One can hardly doubt the close relationship intended by the juxtaposition of these terms in this verse.17 Note that the Holy Spirit has already been given in justification and reconciliation.

That the tou Theou of 5:5 is a subjective genitive is indicated by 5:6-11. The “love of God” is proven by His act of giving His Son who “died for us” (vv. 6, 8, 10). With a kind of prevenient grace, God expressed love before man could-while we were “helpless” (v. 6), “ungodly” (v. 6), “sinners” (v.8), “enemies” (v. 10), Christ died for us. Justification was achieved “by his blood” (en to naimati autou, v.9).18 Tension and paradox characterize the Christian life-already God has justified (vv. 9, 10-11), but much more “we shall be saved” (vv. 9-10). Thus, we have the tension expressed by Oscar Cullman in another context as “already . . . not yet.”

II. Death and Life-Adam and Christ (5:12-21)

This section is considered the locus classicus for the aetiology of original sin.19 But, while the sinfulness of man is certainly implied, the point of 5:12-21 is not to prove the origin of sin but the origin of death, the “reverse side of sin.”20 The primary theme of this section, however, is the origin of new life in Christ and this life is a present reality. The idea of the transmission of the penalty for Adam’s sin to the entire race is not mentioned in Genesis, nor does it appear explicitly anywhere in the Old Testament. That concept first appears only a century or so before Paul’s own time in apocryphal and pseudepigraphical literature (cf. Wisdom of Solomon 2:24; Ecclesiasticus 25:24; 2 Baruch 17:3 and most explicitly in 2 Esdras 7:111). Paul seems to be saying that death became universal not because of a universally sinful inheritance from Adam, but because “all men sinned” (v. 12). This was the usual rabbinical doctrine: “Though death since Adam reigns generally throughout the world, yet it only gains power over the individual on account of his own sin.”2′

“Therefore” (dia touto) in v. 12 connects to verses 1-11 in this way: Because we have received our reconciliation through Christ, it is true that Christ, the bringer of life, is the contrast to Adam, the bringer of death. In His death, Christ has effected reconciliation and He has brought life through a “righteous act” (v. 12).22 Paul does not contrast sin and righteousness but death and life. Certainly only pious imagination can find any basis in this passage for needing to eradicate original sin.

Apparently Paul intended a contrast so that v. 12 would be concluded ” . . . so through one man righteousness came into the world and life through righteousness, and so life became available to all men.”23 If there is a contrast in this paragraph, one must find it in v. 18. But vv. 13-14 are intended to support the phrase “because all sinned” (v. 12), and the argument loses some cohesiveness. Sin is in the world before Moses but cannot be counted as sin where there is no law (v. 13). But death, the consequence of sin, reigns from Adam to Moses, and is universally applied so that those whose sins (hamartesantas) were not like the transgression (parabasis) of Adam also died. One can only conclude that sin was different from Adam to Moses. Sinners before Moses did not sin in the same way as Adam did. The law, then, is what makes sin really sinful.

In verses 12-14, Paul attempts to show the agreement between Adam and Christ; beginning with verse 15 he will show the differences between them.2l Over against Adam’s act of sin (to paraptoma) we have an act of grace on the part of Christ. The Pauline antithesis is again incomplete because “one man’s trespass” is contrasted not with “one man’s obedience,” but with “the grace of God and the free grace gift in the grace of that one man Jesus Christ” (v. 15). God’s grace (charis) is in contrast to the “one” (Adam). In chapter 6, Paul will show that the “much more” of God’s gift of grace was accomplished through Christ’s crucifixion.

Paul wants to show that Christ did more than simply balance the scales. What Christ did can only be described as “much more” (pollomallon, vv. 15, 17). And what is more, where sin abounded, grace super-abounded (hupe reperisseusen, v. 20). Through one man death spread “to all men” (v. 12) and through a second Adam “many will be made righteous” (v. 19). Note, however that in v. 15 the antithesis is “many died” because of Adam and grace “abounded for many” in Christ. Again, in v. 19 “many were made sinners” because of Adam and “many will be made righteous” because of Christ.

Barth believes that Romans 5:12-21 teaches universalism.25 Generally, it has been assumed that through Adam sin and death passed to pantas anthropous, but that Christ’s role as the Second Adam applied only to tous pollous-to as many as believed. In this discussion we should remember that pantes anthropoi in verses 12 and 18, following Semitic usage means the same as hoi polloi 26 Since Paul is dealing in comparison and contrast in this passage, to whatever extent Adam’s action had universal effects, so also Christ’s act must have universal implications.

The problem is our wrong-headed approach to this passage. It is not an attempted aetiology of sin. Paul intends here to speak primarily of Christ in His work of justifying and reconciling mankind to God. Our interpretation also seems to flounder because of our confusion at the point of the mythological character of the first Adam and mythical interpretation of the work of the Second Adam with whom we identify the historical Jesus. Condemnation results because “all have sinned” (v. 12) but righteousness results not because “all have obeyed.” Rather, it is to be received as something (Rom. 6:23) which Christ accomplished. It is prevenient grace and it opens us to the future so that the potential for righteousness is available to all.27 As Irenaeus taught us, Christ reversed all the effects of Adam’s fall.28

III. The New Life in Christ (6:1-7:6)

There is little justification for referring to Romans 6-8 as the “sanctification section” in a particularly Wesleyan sense, as holiness literature often does.29 The word “sanctification” appears only once (at 6:19) in this section and there certainly not as a second work of grace. Besides, 6:1 with its use of oun would indicate a connection between chapters 5 and 6. oun is inferential in usage and signifies that what is to follow is the conclusion drawn from the preceding verses.30 In Romans 6-8, then, it is not so much a shift of emphasis as a deepening of emphasis.3′ Paul is still talking about justification and reconciliation as they are effected by the death of Jesus.

Paul’s emphasis on the superabounding grace of God (5:20) led to the charge of antinomianism-a charge he had already addressed in 3:8. In diatribe style, Paul asks: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” (6:1). An emphatic answer is given to this rhetorical question: me genoito-God forbid! Then, with an interrogative statement, a principle is enunciated: “How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Essentially the same rhetorical question is asked in verse 15.32 The answer is the same as the first: me genoito Justification as explicated in Romans 5 does not imply a Gnostic, libertarian antinomianism, but rather that sin, a personification of power has now been dethroned (6:14).

Stated positively, the principle in verse 2 is: We who have died to sin can no longer live in sin. Verses 3-5, then function as an explanation of the principle stated in verse 2. The rite of baptism is used metaphorically as a pedagogical tool. “All this Paul could have said without any appeal to baptism at all, for it follows directly from his teaching about Christ as the second Adam; but the reference to baptism is of great value pedagogically.33 If the aorist verbs (apethanomen, v. 2; ebaptisthemen v. 3; sunetaphemen v. 4) have any force at all, it seems they would reinforce the Christian’s identification with Christ as the New Adam who, by His death, has reversed the effects of the first Adam’s fall.34

Hamartia can be considered “the action itself as well as the result.”35 Whereas in the LXX “arrogance is regarded as the sin par excellence,”36 Paul refers to it as master, men serve it and are slaves to it, it dies and revives, etc.3′ To make too much distinction between “sin” and “sins” is to miss the whole point. If the Romans remain in sin, they will commit acts of sin. Paul’s doctrine of abounding grace had been misconstrued to mean one might remain in sin. He wants to say rather emphatically that this is not so. Baptism33 “into Christ Jesus” so clearly indentifies the believer with Christ that he participates in the death and burial of Jesus. There is a kind of eschatological reserve, however, and resurrection is reserved for the future.39

Identification with Christ in baptism has one result: “our old man was crucified with Christ” (6:6).4° This paper is not the place to review the history of the arguments on the identification of the “old man”-whether it is the unregenerate self or the regenerate but unsanctified self.4′ What is crucial is that here Paul is saying that in baptism we become participants in the death of Christ. He is coming very close to his argument in 5:12ff The “old man” who dies is the old Adam, which is bound in sin and death. He is raised to “newness of life,” belonging to the new humanity of which Christ is the head.42

What is that “moment” when the “old man” dies? Is it the ritual of baptism, the faith-experience to which baptism witnesses or the moment of Christ’s death with whom the Christian in some real sense died, and with which death, the Christian at the moment of faith identifies, which in turn is expressed by the ritual of baptism? The accent on the literal death of Christ (vv. 3-5) in the context would appear to favor the latter. Confirming this is 2 Corinthians 5:14: “One died for all, therefore all died.” It is doubtful if Paul ever uses the metaphor of death to refer to the subjective experience of conversion or a second crisis, but to the death of Christ where something happened once for all to the potential Christian with which he identifies by faith (pistouein, v.8) and which he begins to realize in the conduct of daily life (logidzesthai, v. 11). The Christian’s “death” occurred when Christ died and is a resultant quality of his existence which he appropriates in life (vv. 7, llf.). A careful study of ho palaios hemon anthropos which is “Adam-or rather, ourselves in union with Adam,”43 substantiates this judgment. The “old man” was crucified in order that (hina of purpose) the body of sin-“the body insofar as it is the organ (werkzung) of sin”44-might be destroyed. Sin loses its power.

Verse 7 is enigmatic. Is Paul saying that dying with Christ removes one forever from the power of sin? The RSV translates: “For he who has died is freed from sin.” The problem is that “freed” is not the best translation of dedikaiotai Probably the verse refers to the believer rather than Christ: “he who died (with Christ) has been justified from sin”-guilt is gone. “The reality is that of the sanctification or transformation of life which Paul began to make obvious in 5:1 and will discuss until 8:39. Out of death has come a new life with Christ (v. 8) and thus to God (v. 10). With this life, sin is completely incompatible.”45 The meaning of verse 7 is clarified by verses 8-10.

No perfection of human character can be derived from this crucifixion metaphor, nor does Paul depict only an ideal. Verse 11 closes the discussion and at the same time opens the way for an application of the principle (cf. v. 2) in verses 12-14 with logidzesthai The ethical implications cannot now be discussed. With verse 12 we get the Pauline “imperative in the indicative”46-and throughout verses 12-14 the message is “Werde was du bist! (Become what you are!).47

Two other analogies are used to support the Pauline thesis: (1) New life is depicted as slavery (6:15-23) and (2) the new life is illustrated from marriage (7:1-6). Verse 15 begins with the same question and the same answer Paul gave in verse 1. Paul recognizes the weakness of his human analogy (v.19) but does not seem to notice that the metaphor of slavery is inconsistent with 8:15 where slavery is denied. There is a change of lordship with no diminishing of the moral responsibility. Christian freedom is paradoxical-to be bound to Christ is to be free indeed. His third analogy has problems as well-the husband does the dying, but the woman is set free. By the reasoning of verse 1, he is the one freed from the law. One probably does well not to press Paul’s analogy and realize that the only point of comparison is that “death puts an end to obligations.”48

IV. The Law and Human Inability (7:7-25)

Undoubtedly, the most vexing problem in Romans 7 is the identification of the “I” who speaks in this passage.49 Is it man under law or under faith? Is it man in general or Paul in particular who speaks? Historically, three positions have been taken: (1) Paul’s reminiscence of life under the law; (2) Paul’s post-conversion experience; (3) his depiction of mankind in the general sense.50 Origen and most of the Greek fathers took the first of these positions; the reformers took up the second position;51 while more recent scholars (W. G. Kummel and Bultmann) take the third position.

James Arminius was accused of heresy because he disagreed with Calvin and Beza in applying Romans 7 to regenerate man. In his defense, Arminius gave an extended dissertation on Romans 7. He proposed a five-part treatment. (1) Paul is not speaking of himself or anyone else as under grace but under law. (2) This position has always had defenders in the church and has never been condemned as heretical. (3) No heresy, including Pelagianism, can be derived from it. (4) Positions taken by Calvin and Beza were not approved by early fathers or even Augustine. (5) The position of Calvin and Beza is “injurious to grace” and “adverse to good morals.”52 He took his position with Origen and the Greek fathers over against Calvin and Beza.

Wesley said that neither Paul nor any other Jew was ever “without the law” and so he speaks neither of himself nor any other Jew.53 Romans 7 describes all Jews and Gentiles who groaned to be delivered from sin. 4 He asks a penetrating question: “Do not Christians also (in the wide sense of the word) groan to be delivered from the body of death?”55 John Fletcher, like Wesley, believed Romans 7 referred to the awakened unregenerate under the law.56 Adam Clarke said if Romans 7 referred to a regenerate man, “the argument of the apostle would go to demonstrate the insufficiency of the gospel as well as the law.”57 A few holiness writers, such as W. B. Godbey, and H. C. Morrison have sometimes interpreted Romans 7 as describing a regenerate person. Grider believes this has been more prominent in folk theology than holiness literature26 Richard Taylor thinks the debate is “a bit pointless” but he applies James 1:8 to Romans 7 to interpret it as the “double-minded” man. He wants Romans 7 to describe both the unregenerate and the unsanctified.69

That this is still a hard question is seen in the way Greathouse handles it. He believes it is certain Paul is drawing from his experience and generalizing it, and he does want to say this is “Mr. Everyman’s autobiography.” But the “I” of Romans 7 cannot be a justified man; Paul’s testimony at the time of writing the Epistle was not 7:7-25, but 8:1-4. The “wretched man” is the awakened sinner. But after all disclaimers, he then wants to interpret Romans 7 as the Christian needing to be sanctified. All of Romans 7:7-25 is in the past tense, although present tense verbs are used in verses 14-25! Finally, he gives a sermon outline for Romans 7:1-8:4 entitled, “The Christian and the Law”!60

Given the use of the first person singular personal pronoun, prima facie evidence would indicate that the subject of the “I” is Paul. But, there is evidence Judaism did not always use the first person singular in a strictly biographical form. Kummel cites three Talmudic passages where “I” is used as a stylistic form, a Stzlform.6′ New evidence from Qumran (columns 10 and 11 of IQS) indicate a use very similar to Romans that is not autobiographical.6Z Within the Pauline literature one can find instances of a gnomic use of the first person singular (cf. Rom. 3:7; 1 Cor. 13:1-3; 6:15) where the indefinite “one” (tis) could have as easily been used as “I.”63

As Wesley pointed out, it is difficult to imagine a time in the life of any Jew when he was “apart from the law” (v. 9). However, objections are raised to an “identification-gnomic” interpretation: (1) Adam is not mentioned; (2) it requires that the law be pre-Mosaic. Neither of the objections is serious. Genesis 3 stands in the background of Jewish literature so prominently that the characters need not be named. Paul is not always precise with his illustrative material as we have already seen. Most likely we have here a mixture of the uses of the gnomic and autobiographical forms.

In the previous sections, Paul had argued that the Christian is free from the power of sin. He is free from it because in dying with Christ, he died to sin (6:1-11), so that in Christian existence he is free to live for God (6:12-13). He is also free from the law, because through dying with Christ, he also died to the law, so that he is free to live for God in the newness of the Spirit (7:1-6).

In 7:7 we face the same rhetorical question as in 6:1 and 6:15-Ti oun eroumen?-“What therefore shall we say?” Now it is no longer “Shall we remain in sin?” but “Is the law sin?” Paul gives the same emphatic denial as in 6:1, 15-me genoito. Yet sin and law have been brought together so Paul states his thesis, answering the objection (alla): ten hamartian ouk egnon ei me dia nomou (v. 7). “Apart from the law sin lies dead” (v. 9). In a real sense, this brings his previous arguments together on sin and law.

Paul’s first argument is: ten epithymian ouk edein ei me. Having stated this, he proceeds with an exegetical explanation. There is an equation: ei me dia nomou = ei me ho nomos elegen (v. 7). What the law said was ouk epithymeseis (v. 7) and thus the law which is personified in the same way as sin, is given a voice with a Scriptural quotation (Exod. 21:17; Deut. 5:21, LXX). In verse 8 he seems to equate entole with nomos and epithymia with hamartia (v. 8).

Exegetical proof for his position is gained by reference to a mythological tradition concerning man’s primordial history in verses 8-11 (cf.5:12f.). Before the law was given, sin was “dead”-it was there but it was ineffective (v.8; cf.5:12fl. At that time man (ego) existed without the law and when law came, sin became alive (i.e. effective; v. 9) Then man (ego) died (v. 10; cf. 5:12). The law which itself was intended “eis zoen” in fact turned out to be “eis thanaton.” The law was misused by and became the tool which served sin to complete her demonic work (death). Man was cheated when he took the law to be what it was (eis zoen), while in fact it brought death (v. 11 is a reformulation of v. 8). The result is that Paul can say that the law itself is good (v. 12). Verse 13 then becomes an apologetic statement: Law is good and it did not bring death-the culprit is sin.64

Paul introduces his second argument with alla (cf. 7:7): he hamartia, hina phane hamartia (emoi egento thanatos) (v. 13). The conclusions of his discussion in 6:7-12 are restated: dia tou agathon moi katergadzomeno thanaton. Sin did this through the instrumentality of the law which is good in order that sin might be revealed as sin. The sinfulness of sin must be demonstrated (v. 13).

The third argument in this section (w. 14-23) sounds like a confessional. It begins with ego de sarkinos eimi, pepramenos hupo ten hamartian (7:14), and ends with a law aichmalotzdzonta me en to nomo tes hamartias to onti en tois melesin mou (7:23). Throughout the argument first person singular pronouns and present tense verbs dominate the scene. Bultmann agrees with the preconversion position, insisting it was known and presented “only from the standpoint of faith,”65 but he believes verse 25b is then a gloss and belongs with verse 23.66 But, C. L. Mitton believes the ego autos of verse 25b is precisely the key to interpreting the passage.67 This became the summary of the whole chapter and the true contrast between chapters 7 and 8 is to be found in that of the autos ego of 7:25b and en Christo Iesou of 8:1.

Man is unable to attain to the will and law of God in and of himself. Paul expresses it with the “I-style:” I am carnal (v. 14); I am . . . sold under sin (v. 14); I do not understand my own actions (v. 15); I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (v.15); I know that nothing good dwells within me (v. 18); I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (vv.18-19); I sin against my wish (vv.17, 20). Paul concludes with the anguished cry which is the universal cry, “Wretched man that I am” (v. 24). A doxology follows: I thank God through Jesus Christ the Lord (v.25)!

According to Bultmann, “because what is involved in Romans 7:7-25 are trans-subjective processes it is possible to understand Romans 7 in its unity with 5:12-21.”68 If this is correct, Richard Taylor is correct in saying it is “a bit pointless” to debate whether Romans 7 is concerned with Paul’s preconversion or post-conversion experience. Romans 7:7-25 is not specifically either Paul’s or mankind’s pre-conversion or post-conversion experience. Nor is it the cry of only “the man under the law” or “the Christian who slips back into a legalistic attitude to God.”69 Paul is uttering mankind’s great cry of its own inability. It is Paul’s and humanity’s realization that in our history we have become so bound up with our Adamic sinfulness that there can be deliverance and victory only in Jesus Christ our Lord.

V. Man in the Freedom of the Spirit (8:1-39)

Romans 8 is clearly structured. Verses 1-11 say the Christian life is life in the Spirit. This life in the Spirit is expounded as the state of sonship in verses 12-17. Eschatological freedom is portrayed in 18-30. Verses 31-39 depict the Christian life as one of triumph. This life far transcends life under the law. Chapter 8 answers the questions raised in chapter 7. It is not the law, but the Spirit that provides the basis for the Christian life. The line of thought broken off at 7:6 is now resumed. The Christian has been crucified and buried with Christ and now lives and serves in the “newness of the Spirit.” Throughout chapter 8, the dominant note is that of assurance.

Like 7:25b, 8:1 is a dogmatic sentence, which is certainly not a question but according to the ara nun that follows, which is parallel to the ara oun in 7:25b, is to be understood as a foundation. As such, however, it does not fit in either with the depiction of existential tornness in 7:25b, the lament in 7:24, or the thanksgiving in 7:25a; which needs an explanation rather than a basis and is given in 8:2. Again, 8:1, unlike 7:25a and 8:2, does not maintain deliverance from the body of death, but from eschatological judgment.70 Therefore, we must consider the possibility of a gloss.7′ Now is the tie that binds 8:1 to 7:6. “But now we have been released from the law” (7:6, NASB). There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1, NASB). Condemnation (katakrzma) passed upon all men in Adam (5:18) but in Christ there is no katakrima (8:1) because God condemned (katekrinen) sin in the flesh (8:3).

According to the context in chapter 7, it is not accidental that Paul states his thesis in terms of liberation from the law of sin and death (8:2). Just as one slavery replaces another in Romans 6, so in Romans 8 the “law of the Spirit” replaces the “law of sin and death.” It was because of the weakness of the flesh (sarx) that the law was made impotent, but God did what the law could not by sending His Son to condemn sin in the flesh (of Jesus). Jesus came in the likeness (homoiomati) of sinful flesh (v. 3). The “likeness of flesh” would be Docetism; the “flesh of sin” would be Ebionitism; the “likeness of the flesh of sin” is gospel.

For Paul, orientation to the sarx or the pneuma is the total attitude which determines everything. Life is determined as a totality by sarx or pneuma72 Man “in the flesh” is man by himself, apart from God with no capacity over the power of sin. God accomplished what the law could not do by sending His son into the hostile territory of sin and death. Christ came to deliver Adam’s race from “the compulsion of sin” (v.4).73 Life in Christ is life in the Spirit. Prior to chapter 8, the Holy Spirit was only mentioned twice (Rom. 5:5 and 7:6, both related to chapter 8), but the Holy Spirit is mentioned twenty times in 8:1-27.

The gar in verse 5 indicates the relation to verse 4, not just of verse 5, but of verses 5-11 as a whole, which provides an explanation of verse 4 for tois me kata sarka peripatousin alla kata pneuma The expressions hoi kata sarka ontes, ta tes sarkos phronousin, and hoi kata sarka peripatounes are synonymous; the en sarki (instrumental, not locative dative) indicates that Paul has no fixed, technical terminology.74 To “mind” the things of the flesh is to allow the direction of life to be determined by the flesh while those who allow the Spirit to determine life’s direction are “minding” the things of the Spirit. Verses 5-8 seem to be poetic in structure75 and give a vivid contrast of life lived under sin and that lived in the Spirit which is reminiscent of 5:12-21. There are two possible “mind-sets”-the flesh (the old humanity) or the Spirit (the new humanity, v. 5). The mind of flesh has death as its final outcome (v. 6), is in absolute enmity with God (v. 7) and can in no way please Him (v. 8). In contrast, those who are in the Spirit set their mind on life (v. 6) and are at peace with God (v. 6; cf. 5:1).

What has been said in general in verses 5-8 is applied specifically to the Romans in verses 9-11. Paul begins with a qualified affirmation of his confidence that his readers are indeed in the Spirit (note that he either has a “functional trinitarianism” or is very imprecise because he moves almost imperceptibly in v.9 from “the Spirit” to “the Spirit of God,” to “the Spirit of Christ”). The qualification in verse 9b is necessary because he knows that sometimes men claim to be “in the Spirit” but fail to “walk” in the Spirit. The “walk” is the evidence of the “being” (v. 4). Those who walk in the Spirit still live in perishable bodies (v. 10). As in 1 Corinthians 15:42-43, so in verses 10b-11 Paul assures the Romans of a future body which will be transformed at the resurrection. Redemption, then, is eschatological; redemption is complete only in the future.

The qualified affirmation of confidence is still spoken to saints in Rome, not saints in heaven and they are told they are not en sarki (v. 9). The soma in this passage (v.10) is man himself while sarx is a power that lays claim to him and determines him. That is why Paul can speak of a life kata sarka but never of a life kata soma 76 Verse 9b can be read in juxtaposition with 7:20 to give the contrasted meaning. In the expression, “Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ,” Wesley understands that one is not a Christian if he does not have the Spirit.77 Adam Clarke believed that verse 9 proved that Paul is talking about justification.78

Verses 13-14 provide a summary of everything from 6:1 on. The justified person is dead to the flesh and alive in the Spirit. These verses also provide a transition to verses 15ff. where sonship is declared. “Son of God” is a predicate, not the subject, and so, hosoi (v. 14) refers to the person described in verses 1-1 la. That is the point.79 Paul has used the metaphor of slavery with an apology (6:18) to describe the Christian life but now he says the metaphor should be sonship, not slavery (v. 15), and the Spirit of sonship brings the impassioned cry, Abba ho pater.30 There are two witnesses to the adoption: the confession of the believer (v.15) and the confirmation of the Holy Spirit (v.16) and this reciprocal witness is simultaneous. Adoption is a term (huiothesia) unknown to the Jews and is not found in the LXX. It is striking though that only “those who are guided by the Spirit” can be called “Children of God.”81 God loves us when we are sinners; He adopts us when we are guided by the Spirit.

Naive optimism is not allowed. The heirs and joint-heirs receive their inheritance only if they suffer with Christ (v. 17b). In Paul’s theology, the eschatological “coming glory” does not permit one to avoid the cross. His message of hope is placed in the context of participation with Christ in His Passion-a theology of hope must also be the theology of the cross and a pilgrim theology. But hope is alive so that the future glory is not to be compared with our present suffering with Christ (v. 18).

It is “the present” (v.18) in which the Christian suffers, but it is a present already transformed by the future because of what Christ did at the cross. Eschatological hope is grounded in an historical event. The “present” is a time of groaning-all nature groans together (sunodinei v. 22); Christians groan (stenadzomen, v. 23) for the adoption as sons, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groanings (stenagmois, v. 26). The “perfect” is yet to come (1 Cor. 13:10)-we live in hope between the “already” and the “not yet.” “Since Adam’s fall the world lacks nothing more than eschatological freedom.”82

The “we know” (oidamen) of verse 28 is to be contrasted with “we know not” (ouk oidamen) of verse 26 and is made possible by the “He knows” (oiden) of verse 27. Not only should we recognize that God (ho Theos) is the subject of verse 28, but that His “working together” (synergei) is set in an eschatological setting-all nature, including man, looks forward with keen anticipation to a future glory in which all the effects of Adam’s fall will be reversed and redemption will be complete. “Those who love him” are the ones “called according to his purpose”-the ones called and predestined by God.83 So certain is Paul of this glorious future that he even uses the aorist tense for “glorify” (v. 30b), as if it had already occurred.84

It is understandable but inappropriate to refer to the “poetic beauty” of 8:31-3985 Neither is it to be described as a hymn.86 Rather, it is diatribe with an approximation to the rhythmic prose of antiquity.87 The initial rhetorical question does not merely prepare the way for what immediately follows; it sets the whole message of Romans 5-8 under debate. This had already emerged in 5:5 and now love is defined, not as an emotion, but as “God for us” (8:31).

The diatribe takes the form of rhetorical questions and answers in verses 31-34 where the theme of “no condemnation” is developed. Verse 31 begins much like 6:1, 14 and 7:7. “If God is for us, who is against us” (8:31) almost certainly has 5:6-10 in mind. The second question, “who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?” is answered with “It is God who justifies” (8:33). Certainly, this has in mind 5:1, 20 and 8:1. The third question “Who is to condemn” (8:34) is very much the same question. Christ does not condemn-He died for us. God does not condemn-He loved and gave His Son.

To be reconciled to God means to be at enmity with the powers of sin and flesh. That accounts for the questions in 8:35, based upon “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Note that it is the love of God in Christ in v. 39.) Paul answers his questions in verse 35 with Scripture-Psalm 44:22. If we share in Christ’s suffering, we are assured of a share in His glory (v. 17). Thus, no matter how severe the tribulations, we are “super-conquerors” (hypernikomen) through Him who loved us (v. 37; cf. 5:5-10). Super-conquerors need fear nothing; all the invincible forces of the universe combined (v. 38) cannot separate us from the triumphant love of God grasped and existentialized through Christ Jesus our Lord (v. 39).


This paper does not intend to suggest that Romans 5-8 is not concerned with sanctification. But, it is the conviction of this writer that sanctification in these chapters is not discussed as a second work of grace. The theological precision of a first and second step or of justification and sanctification do not concern the Apostle Paul. The heart of the Wesleyan message is holiness of heart and life and that is the concern of Romans 5-8.

Nothing written in this paper should be construed to be a denial of two works of grace, only that it is not explicitly stated in Romans 5-8. Here Paul is concerned with justification by faith and the implications of faith lived out existentially. This is sanctification, but sanctification understood more in terms of the continual sanctification of life as it is lived “in Christ” by the Spirit as opposed to the former life “in the flesh” under the dominion of Adam.

Paul does not seem to be interested in defining justification and sanctification in terms of neat, systematic theological formulas. Nor does he seem interested in psychologizing these doctrines. What then shall I say? That there is no entire sanctification? Me genoito! My own experience (a valid Wesleyan criterion) confirms both a second work of grace and a progressive sanctification that continues until this moment and I trust until I see Him face to face. God is not finished with me yet!


1. Mildred Bangs Wynkoop, A Theology of Love (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1972), p. 48.

2. Charles David Isbell, “Historical Wesleyan Interpretations of the Pauline Phrase, The ‘Old Man’ ” (M. A. Thesis, Bethany Nazarene College, 1967), pp. 48ff.

3. F. J. Leenhardt, The Epistle to the Romans (Cleveland and New York: The World Publishing Company, 1957).

4. M. J. Lagrange, Saint PauL Epitre aux Romains (Paris: Etudes Bibliques, 1850-1918). It is argued by him and others that Romans 5 has some significant linguistic connections with chapters 1-4.

5. C. E. B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, in The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, Limited, 1975), p. 254.

6. Cranfield, Romans, ICC, p. 254.

7. Rudolf Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament, tr. Kendrick Grobel (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951), p. 276.

8. Rudolf Bultmann, The Old and New Man in the Letters of Paul, tr. Keith R. Crim (Richmond: John Knox Press, 1964), p. 49.

9. John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (Napier-ville, Ill.: Alec R. Allenson, Inc., 1958 reprint), pp. 535-36. Similarly, Cranfield, Romans, ICC, p. 257.

10. This writer is aware that the subjunctive reading has much better attestation in the MSS than the indicative reading.

11. Bultmann, The Old and the New Man, p. 51; likwise C. H. Dodd, “The Epistle to the Romans,” The Moffat New Testament Commentary (New York and London: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1932), p. 73; and Cranfield, Romans, ICC, p. 258.

12. Both eschehamen and hestekamen are in the perfect tense, denoting a resultant state based on past action.

13. C. W. Ruth calls this “standing grace” and comments: “As indicated by the word ‘also,’ it is a grace obtained subsequent to ‘being justified by faith,’ Entire Sanctification Explained (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1955, 8th printing), p. 52. Surprisingly, this same position is taken by J. Kenneth Grider, Entire Sanctification (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1980), p. 120. Neither John Wesley (Explanatory Notes) nor Adam Clarke (Commentary on the Holy Bible, one volume edition, ed. Ralph Earle, Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967) found a second work of grace in Romans 5:2.

14. John Knox, “The Epistle to the Romans” (Introduction and Exegesis), Interpreter’s Bible, ed. George A. Buttrick (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1954), 9:454, believes verses 3-4 form an interruption in Paul’s thought.

15. As a general statement, one would need to say that he thlipsis hupomonen katergadzetal lacks validity because as Calvin points out, tribulation “provokes a great part of mankind to murmur against God, and even to curse him,” The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans and to the Thessalonians, tr. R. Makenzie (Edinburgh: 1961).

16. The Holy Spirit is mentioned only twice (Romans 5:5, 7:6) before we get to Romans 8, where the Holy Spirit appears 20 times (8:1-27).

17. Bultmann, The Old Man and the New Man, p. 54.

18. Based on verses 6-8 we would expect Paul to say “through his death” in verse 9, as indeed he does say in verse 10, but Paul uses a traditional formula “by his blood.” In Romans 3:25 he uses a similar formula. Except for these two passages and the traditional formulation of the eucharist, Paul does not speak of the blood, but of the death, or of the cross of Christ. Karl Barth has placed more emphasis on the resurrection in this passage than the allusion in v. 10 warrants, Christ and Adam: Man and Humanity in Romans 5, trans. by T. A. Smail (New York: Harper, 1957).

19. H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1959), 2:96. Also see William Greathouse, “Romans,” Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1968), 8:114, where he makes much of he hamartia as a new term in Romans, beginning with 5:12; “the sin” is not guilt but sin as revolt and the expression occurs 28 times between 5:12 and 8:10.

20. Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, tr. Edwin C. Hoskyns (London: Oxford University Press, 1933), p. 115.

21. Henry St. John Thackeray, The Relation of St. Paul to Contemporary Jewish Thought (London: Macmillan and Co., 1900), p. 33.

22. Interestingly, in vv. 15-17, Paul is concerned not with Adam’s sin (hamartia) but with his trespass (paraptoma) and in v. 19 it is his disobedience (parakoes).

23. John Knox, “Romans,” IB, p. 463.

24. See Wesley, Explanatory Notes, p. 538.

25. Barth, Christ and Adam. Cf. Wesley, Explanatory Noes, p. 539.

26. Bultmann, The Old Man and the New Man, p. 65. Compare this also in verses 18 and 19.

27. Romans 5:12-21 does not intend to teach original sin. Certainly it says nothing of a mode of transmission. One can only wonder where A. M. Hills gets the idea that the genetic mode is the best way of avoiding the Calvinistic doctrine of imputed sin, Fundamental Christian Theology (Pasadena Calif.: C. J. Kine, 1931), 1:427ff. Wm. M. Arnett, “The Wesleyan-Arminian Teaching on Sin,” Insights Into Holiness, ed. Kenneth Geiger (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1963), p. 66, is simply wrong when he says this is the Wesleyan-Arminian position.

28. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., al1. Anakephaliosis = Recapitulatio.

29. E. g. Greathouse, “Romans,” BBC, p. 124. LaGrange has even seen this as having to do with sanctification, but not in a Wesleyan sense, Saint Paul, Epitre Aux Romains (Paris: Librarie Victor Lecoffre, 1916), p. 99. Reformed scholars will also make this division in a non-Wesleyan sense.

30. F. Blass, A. Debrunner and R. Funk, A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), p. 442; H. E. Dana and J. Mantey, A Manual Grammar of the Greek New Testament (Toronto: Macmillan, 1927), p. 252.

31. Wilber T. Dayton, “Holiness Truth in the Roman Epistle,” Further Insights into Holiness, ed. Kenneth Geiger (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1963), p. 100.

32. Greathouse, “Romans,” BBC, p. 142, strains the questions: (1) Shall we continue in sin (te hamartia), (2) Shall we continue to sin? To say the least, the order of the questions seems to be hopelessly reversed for Greathouse.

33. Dodd “Romans ” Moffatt p 87

34. For the function of the Greek verb, review Dana and Mantey, Grammar, pp. 177-79; Nigel Turner, “Syntax,” Vol. III of A Grammar of New Testament Greek, 1963, pp. 59ff. It should be noted that the tense stems were originally intended to indicate the kind of achon, not the kind of time. A theology of verb tenses is indeed a precarious theology! See Dana and Mantey, Grammar, pp. 139ff. for a review of the aorist tense.

35. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, tr. William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1957), p. 42. David L. Cubie has noted that Fletcher and Wesley never made a distinction between SIN and sins. “Perfection in Wesley and Fletcher: Inaugural or Teleological,” Wesleyan TheologicalJournal, 11 (Spring 1976):22-37.

36. Gerhard Kittel, ed., The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), 1:286.

37. Bauer, Lexicon, pp. 42f.

38. V. P. Furnish, Theory and Ethics in Paul (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968), p. 77, notes that here Paul is making use of traditional material to lend persuasiveness to his argument.

39. 2 Timothy 2:18 indicates clearly the need for eschatological reserve. This may have also been a problem Paul faced at Corinth.

40. Anthropos most often refers to “the genus or nature, without distinction of sex.” Joseph Henry Thayer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1886), p. 46.

41. On this, cf. Isbell, “Historical Wesleyan Interpretation.” Apparently, the majority of present day Wesleyans view the “old man” as sin principle to be eradicated in the work of sanctification. A notable exception is J. Kenneth Grider.

42. Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1949), pp. 232f.

43. C. K. Barrett, “The Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans,” Harper’s New Testament Commentary (New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1957), p. 125. Cf. also Robert C. Tannenhill, Dying and Rising With Christ (Berlin: Toplemann, 1967). J. Kenneth Grider sees Romans 6:6 as one of the strongest texts for the second crisis.

44. Paul Althus, Der Brief an die Romer, Das Neve Testament Deutsch (Gottingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1966), p. 62.

45. Frank Carver, “Compatible or Incompatible,” Preacher’s Magazine, November 1969, p. 39.

46. J Harold Greenlee, “The Greek New Testament and the Message of Holiness,” Further Insights, p. 81.

47. Dodd, “Romans,” Moffatt, p. 93.

48. Dodd, “Romans,” Moffatt, p. 106.

49. Rudolf Bultmann, “Romans 7 and the Anthropology of Paul,” Existence and Faith, tr. Schubert M. Ogden (New York: Living Age Books, 1960), p. 147. Richard N. Longenecker, Paul, Apostle of Liberty (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 86; for a definitive work, see W. G. Kummel, Romer 7 und die Bekehrung des Paulus (Leipzig: Hinrichs, 1929\.

50. Longenecker, Paul, pp. 86-87.

5l. G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 19523, p. 55.

52. James Arminius, The Writings of James Aminius, tr. James Nichols and W. R. Bagnall (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1956), pp. 195-453. See also Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971), pp. 186ff.

53. John Wesley, The Works of John Wesley (Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House, n.d.), 9:296.

54. Wesley, Works, 9:297.

55. Wesley, Works,9:298. Wesley expresses irritation that Dr. Taylor spends over 20 pages trying to prove that Romans 7 does not describe a regenerate man.

56. John Fletcher, Checks to Antinomianism (New York and Cincinnati: Hunt and Eaton, 1891 edition), 2:529ff.

57. Clarke, Commentary, p. 1055. Cf. Henry E. Brockett, The Christian and Romans 7 (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press), 1972.

58. Grider, Entire Sanctification, p.142. But, cf. William Burt Pope, A Compendium of Christian Theology (New York: Hunt and Eaton, n.d.), 2:24, Thomas Cook, New Testament Holiness (London: The Epworth Press, 1954, 4th ed., first published 1902); and Joseph Gray, The Double Cure (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1953), pp. 74-75.

59. Richard S. Taylor, Life in the Spirit (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1966)r p. 50. Grider thinks Paul uses the “historical present” in Romans 7 (Entire Sanctification, p. 143). Hills, Fundamental Christian Theology 2:259 argued similarly. It is quite strange when scholars demand the full force of the aorist in Romans 6, but refuse to allow the present tense in Romans 7!

60. Greathouse, “Romans,” BBC, pp. 150-67.

61. Kummel, Romer 7, pp. 128-32.

62. Longenecker, Paul, pp. 88-89.

63. Kummel, Romer 7, pp. 121-23.

64. The lack of clarity in his use of symbolic language is not new for Paul as we have already seen.

65. Rudolf Bultmann, “Christ the End of the Law,” Essays, tr. J. C. Greig (London: S.C.M. Press, 1955), p. 40.

66. Bultmann, Theology, 1:122, n.

67. G. L. Mitton, “Romans vii Reconsidered-III,” Expository Times, 65:5 (February 1954), p. 133.

68. Bultmann, “Romans 7,” p. 157.

69. As A. M. Hunter asserts in The Epistle to the Romans (London: S.C.M. Press, 1955), p. 74.

70. Ernst Kasemann, Commentary on Romans (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), p. 214.

71. Rudolf Bultmann, “Glossen im Romerbrief,” Theologische Literaturzeitung, Vol. 72, (1947), pp. 199ff.

72. Eduard Schweizer, TDNT, 7:135.

73. Bultmann, Theology, 1:332.

74. Cranfield, “Romans,” ICC, p. 337.

75. Dale Moody, “Romans,” Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press), 10:206.

76. Bultmann, Theology, 1:201.

77. Wesley, Explanatory Notes. Note “the Spirit” and the “Spirit of God” are used synonymously.

78. Clarke, Commentary, p. 1059.

79. Dodd, “Romans,” Moffatt, p. 128.

80. Dodd, “Romans,” Moffatt p. 130, notes the NT has no concept of “natural sonship.” One becomes a son through adoption in Christ. God has children but no grandchildren.

81. Dodd, “Romans,” Moffatt, p. 130. Cf. also Kittel, TDNT, 1:5f and J. Jeremias, The Central Message of Jesus (New York: Scribners, 1965), pp. 25ff. Wesley believes the person’s spirit bears witness in “an inward impression on the soul” (Sermons, 1:115.) but Kaseman (Romans), p. 228 points to its juridical nature and calls for something more objective: the Spirit in worship speaks to the spirit that dwells within us.

82. Kasemann, Romans p. 234.

83. The question of election is treated in Romans 9 and it will not be dealt with here

84. John B. Polhill, “New Life in Christ, Romans 6-8,” Review and Expositor, Vol. 73, p. 436.

85. Dodd “Romans”, Moffatt, p. 133.

86. Moody, Romans, pp. 223-25.

87. Kasemann, Romans, p. 246.